British music has always been at the forefront of popular culture around the world. From The Beatles to Adele to One Direction the British music industry has paved the way for its cultural and musical heritage to be celebrated across the globe. However, notorious for being a hard-nut to crack, the music scene in America has managed to embrace musicians from across the ‘pond’ unlike artists who come from other countries.
Since the end of the Second World War, Britain and America have always retained what the media have portrayed as the ‘special relationship’. The bond between America and the UK is felt across the world in a political aspect, however, this ‘special relationship’ can also be felt in the world of music and culture. From the late 1950s America was enjoying the glory of wholesome rock and roll, with the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. These American artists made an impact around the world, becoming role models and shaping cultures across the globe – including Britain’s.
The impression rock and roll had on British music and culture meant young people were trying to replicate the American rock and roll sound. In the early 60s Britain embraced the American music culture, however Britain’s attempts at rock and roll however did not connect with the British public. Nevertheless, bands across the country found ways to experiment mixing both UK and US sounds together, emerging British groups started to combine the American style of music with the classic British sound. The US/UK fusion was developed and prominent in cities across the UK such as London, Birmingham, Manchester – but more significantly in Liverpool.
The sound that Liverpool was creating started to have a buzz around the country, music critics and bands began to take notice of the sounds and styles that were coming out of the city and began replicating it. Liverpool was in a unique position in Britain musically as a birthplace for new forms of music. With deindustrialisation in the city which had led to social decline and an increase of local solidarity, the people of Merseyside only had music as a way of escapism from the harsh realities of the real world. Being in the position of having a large Irish community in the city and one of the world’s major ports the access for music from other countries, and in particular American music made it readily available for musicians from the region to become inspired by new sounds. This was the beginning of the term which is now coined for this new music phenomenon called ‘Merseybeat’.
The Merseybeat name began back in 1961 on the back of a magazine based in the city. Founder Bill Harry based the term on the pace of a policeman’s walk and not on the music being created. However, the term quickly become synonymous with the music produced out of Liverpool from the combination of American and British sounds merged together. Bands across Merseyside experimented with this and the most famous that has come out of Liverpool was the Beatles.
The Liverpool band overnight had managed to crack the formula for creating a sound that the Brits could enjoy and call their own. In contrast America was desperately seeking to find a new sound for the new decade, the emergence of the Beatles had come at a right time for youths in 1960s America. As the popularity of Rock and Roll music declined steadily in the late 50s in America, the music scene was rapidly fading, rock and roll music was fast becoming dated and something new had to be taken in its place. Furthermore, young people around America were becoming tired and irritated of the smooth, singles-orientated pop stars the American industry were churning out and were looking elsewhere for inspiration – including the UK. The success of the Beatles in the UK gained interest from the American market from an appearance on a major American television show.
There performance on the show pulled in audiences of 73 million, in which the US media and music industry began to take notice of these four boys from Liverpool. More tactical media coverage in America increased their exposure on the US music market. A radio station in Washington D.C. played “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and within a matter of minutes the switchboard at the radio station went into melt down with audiences requesting the song again or asking what the song was. Their successful appearance on American television was the turning point to which the band had gained popularity in the UK and the all important US market. Several newspapers in the country began printing articles and wanting interviews with British band and their sound which they had called the soundtrack to the 60s – this was the beginning of what is now dubbed ‘Beatlemania’.
The unprecedented media attention for The Beatles across America had caught the attention of the American music industry and soon the Beatles were signed to Parlophone’s American sister label Capitol. Newspapers and music magazines called the birth British music on American territory as ‘The British Invasion’. British music was now at the forefront of the world, paving the way and the sound of the 1960’s. Japan, Europe and now America were following what British bands were producing and taking an interest in the UK music scene and adapting their culture to what the UK was doing at the time. The music of The Beatles established to the world that the British music industry was a credible place for musical creativity and no longer to be disregarded. Additionally, the invasion became a catalyst for other artists from Britain to become internationally successful.
Not only was British music influencing the American Music but also British styles were adopted by many young Americans. The early 60s marked the start of the Mod’s and Rockers style of dress. Furthermore, the edgy British swagger was also accepted into the American mainstream market, mainly adopted by young Americans. US artists were also influenced by the British fashion styles, and they similarly chose to include the British bandwagon of the Mod look to their image. Iconic artist of the 60’s and 70’s Andy Warhol was undoubtedly influenced by the infiltration of British culture on America at the time. His whole artistic style was derived from the British art movement of Pop Art from the mid 50’s into the 60’s. Andy Warhol’s influence on the art world catapulted the Pop Art movement onto the global stage. As a result, Americans now were turning to Britain, but in particular London for their musical and cultural guidance. Britain had now become the hub of the world for music and culture.
However not all of America accepted the new British invasion, most conservative Americans of the South of the country did not want the harsh sounds of ‘Beatlemania’ in the US and believed it to be against the American way of life. The Beatles were boycotted in some states of Southern America, with some radio stations banning Beatles songs off their playlists and organising public ‘drop offs’ for Beatles merchandise to be burned. Memphis City Council even attempted to cancel a Beatles concert. Furthermore, the Ku Klux Klan nailed the 1964 album “Meet the Beatles” to a cross before setting it alight in South-Carolina.
The backlash against the Beatles in the South stemmed from the media coverage and the pedestal that the band were put upon. Band member John Lennon did not help in the matter as in an interview with British newspaper, The Evening Standard he remarked that the Beatles were ‘more popular than Jesus’. This caused mass outrage throughout the mid and deep South of America and subsequently Lennon and the Beatles were targeted. Consequently, the Beatles realised that their fame and actions had an influence on what the American and other territories around the world were doing.
Conservative America’s Southern had a community that was built around a suburbia the rise of more affluent middle-class and a shift towards greater conformity. In the eyes of these types of people the Beatles were seen as the devil in disguise brain-washing young American’s into ideologies that weren’t Christian-like nor ‘proper American’. However, the comment did not harm the image or sales of future Beatles albums and singles that were released in the US, therefore cementing their influence on American Culture throughout the 60’s.
By the early to mid 1970s and with the success of the Beatles and other British bands like the Rolling Stones and the Kinks, Americans have all but absorbed and saturated the 60’s psychedelic rock era and was once again yearning for a new sound. Furthermore, America had with the help of British music re-established their musical identity. The birth of funk and disco music throughout the mid 1970s dominated the American charts and no longer was British music in the last decade seen as cool with the likes of Nile Rodgers and Chic transforming the industry. However, Britain did not follow the trend that America was setting to the rest of the world. The UK market fell out of love with the Punk Rock era and reinvented its sound and image to fit the new wave of British artists who were pioneering the innovative new sounds thanks to technological advances in music. From this the Post Punk and Synthpop generation was inspired throughout the UK.
Things set to change during the late 70s and early 80s Punk-Rock bands that had dominated the US scene during the past decade was in decline and once again the American industry was looking for something refreshing and exciting in the music world. With the pop and rock music scene in the US was at an all time low creatively and financially due to the fact listenership was fragmented and the disco scene suffered a backlash during the latter half of the 70s, America once again looked to Britain for inspiration for a new sound. Few music videos existed in the US unlike their UK counterparts, and the videos that did surface in America were tape recordings of concerts by bands and not actual music videos like we know today. The UK however had been using music videos for some time to promote the new wave Synthpop era with it being hugely successful. The American market had cottoned on to the new form of music promotion and set up a new television station dedicated solely to music, MTV launched 1st August 1981. MTV changed the way music was consumed in America, the television station became the first port of call for Americans to receive new music easily and to millions of households throughout the country.
With the birth of what is labelled the MTV generation it proved a problem for the American music industry, besides the globally critically acclaimed music video “Thriller” by Michael Jackson in 1983 MTV lacked American artists with music videos for their songs. As a result, MTV used British artists who had created music videos from the early 80s to play on the new channel to fill up airtime. These UK artists dominated the American pop charts and journalist described this new wave of music as a Second British Invasion, one that was reminiscent of the first one back in the 60s led by the Beatles.
British musicians again ruled the music world, the sound and style of the post punk era fascinated the American market, the androgynous look of artists coupled with the hybrid of retro, glam and futurism which was seamlessly put together in the worlds of music and fashion through the 70s and early 80s was pioneered by the likes of David Bowie and Roxy Music. Furthermore, the change of subject matter within the songs had no longer been a politically charged one with the likes of the Sex Pistols and Rolling Stones dominating the charts with songs like ‘God Save the Queen’ but now had toned it down and artists now became an image or an alter ego as such with David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust.
The Second British Invasion had a profound effect on the music industry in America, journalists described the new influx of artists over from the UK under an umbrella term of ‘new music’ since they identified key traits in all the artists that had taken over the charts. Many of the new music artists made records that had an infectious danceable sound to it with emphasis on the synthesizers and drum machines but also wrote about the darker side of love and romance. The New Music genre also rediscovered and pushed other genres like Ska, Rockabilly and Motown back into the charts, albeit mixed with African influences to produce a sound that was exciting and refreshing for all. The reaction across America from New Music was received positively as the music scene was aimed at that period for either one set of people, or another. The explosion of post-punk to the market created a sense of change and upheaval in the music industry and marked the start of something new and modern.
Britain changed the face of the clear cut popular music the Americans have had over the past thirty years, but now the lines between genres, styles and cultures were now merged together as one. Many critics and journalists heralded the wave of British artists as a lifeline for the American market as they bought colour and energy back into the popular music. However, fans and critics of rock music alike were skeptical towards the New Music hysteria, as they felt it did not represent true America, but try to cement British values and culture into the American society. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop millions of Americans purchasing British singles and albums giving UK artists a 30% share of the record sales in the Billboard charts. Furthermore, in 1983 20 of the top 40 singles in the American chart were by British artists, smashing the record previously set in 1965 of 14 – including seven of the top ten singles.
The euphoria of British music making an impact on the US was short-lived the industry built on the success of what the Brits have achieved introduced a new type of American pop star to eclipse the British artists currently dominating the charts, the new surge of American artist such as Madonna, Prince and even Michael Jackson connected with the US audiences more than the British, but also their stage presence and personas were ultimately bigger and better than what the UK had produced.
New Music was slowly declining in popularity in favour for the bigger bolder American artists, with some even calling the Synthpop movement as less credible and the antithesis of the Rock and Roll era. Though still big in Britain and racking up numerous best selling albums and singles, most British artist had lost their way in the American market sparking a transitional period during the late 80s. Audiences were no longer buying into the British sound and were opting for the more American influences. Additionally, the personal lives of British artists made the headlines more than their music, as such the case with Boy George and his addiction to drugs which led to the break up of the Culture Club. In contrast American artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen started to produce multi-platinum hits across America and the world. By the end of the 80s the all new American sound was further pushed up in the ranks by the introduction of the gritty sounds hip-hop, dance and metal which became the popular music trends in America. British acts became less prevalent on the U.S. charts, and on 27 April 2002, for the first time in almost 40 years, the Hot 100 had no British acts at all.
Today the American music industry is now awash with British artists in the US charts. almost 20 years later the likes of Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and Natasha Bedingfield brought back British music to the forefront of American listeners. The new gritty sound and soulful voice of the late Amy Winehouse captivated US audiences once again. Her soulful jazz sound had gone back to basics of music without the fluffy computer led production that once dominated the charts back in the 80s. Winehouse is seen as the groundbreaker for paving the way for the new and third invasion of homegrown talent to crack America once again. Today artists such as Adele, Calvin Harris, One Direction and Ed Sheeran have all managed to crack America with a winning formula that American audiences find irresistible.
Unlike their predecessors the third invasion of artists have catered to different genres within the American market. One Direction for instance have filled the gap in the boy band market that American teenage girls know and love since the spilt of NSYNC over 15 years ago. whereas Adele and Ed Sheeran have gone down the soulful, heart-on-my-sleeve blue eyed route of music, which connects with audiences not only in America but around the world. Additionally, even artists in the world of hip-hop and R&B have been experimenting with the British and European sounds in the last 5/6 years. The likes of Rihanna and Flo-Rida who have hopped on to the EDM scene with singles produced British artists such as Calvin Harris (responsible for Rihanna’s worldwide smash hit single ‘We Found Love’) and French DJ David Guetta (responsible for Flo-Rida’s ‘Club Can’t Handle Me’).
The American market today is now becoming more accepting of British artists due to the diversity of what the UK music scene has to offer. The changing landscape of the music industry with the superiority of the internet and digital downloading taking over physical copies have also helped British artists get their music out over in the States, letting more American’s have much easier access to songs they would be able to find in the US. Furthermore, Britain has also learned from its previous mistakes in cracking America as a result record companies and executives haven’t solely directed every artist coming out of the UK to have the same sound, style and image but to have their own distinctive path which will make them stand out from the already saturated American market. If the UK music industry keeps up the way they are marketing British artists over in the US, musicians from this side of the pond would surely have a certain chance of keeping a firm grip in breaking America and being